Major tourism push

The government yesterday announced its largest public relations program for Greek tourism, which will involve 45 million euros to be spent next year, with another 20 million euros per year for the next four years. This was one of a number of decisions taken with the aim of increasing tourism’s share of GDP from 15 percent to 17 percent, raising the number of those employed in the tourism sector by 16 percent above the current 690,000, and increasing the number of tourists from 13 million to 20 million per year by 2008. Other measures included streamlining procedures for tourism investment and carrying out a major investment program by the State’s Hellenic Tourism Properties company. «Our country, as we all know, has a strong comparative advantage in the tourism sector,» Prime Minister Costas Simitis said after chairing a three-hour meeting of ministers and aides from 10 ministries. «We have to make these comparative advantages known and we must stress them and work hard in order to increase their yield,» he said. Simitis said that the National Tourism Organization will now specialize in marketing, public relations and statistics. A subsidiary will be set up to market Greek tourism, along with private interests. The Development Ministry’s General Secretariat for Tourism will plot strategy, coordinate with other ministries and conduct policy and inspections. «The second and, I believe, very important issue is for us to promote more entrepreneurship in the tourism sector,» Simitis said. This includes lifting a ban on new high-quality tourism investment in areas regarded as saturated, while at the same time closing old units. Also, a number of large investments will be promoted immediately, by simplifying the issuing of permits. «There are businessmen and business groups who would like to make major investments in Greece and we must make this procedure quicker and more effective,» Simitis said. Investments will include golf courses, thalassotherapy centers, conference centers, theme parks and agricultural tourism. «The Olympics will be a great event for our tourism. Not only because people will come to Greece from all over the world but also because the Olympics are a way for us to upgrade our infrastructure all over Greece. Through tourism, the benefits of the Games will spread to the whole country,» Simitis said.